Talking Teaching

May 13, 2013

selling services on line

Filed under: education, university — Tags: , , , — alison @ 2:05 pm

Yesterday’s Sunday Star-Times carried the headline: Chinese cheats rort NZ universities with fakes. The story begins:

An investigation has uncovered a well-organised commercial cheating service for Chinese-speaking students in New Zealand. The long-standing business uses a network of tutors, some outside New Zealand, to write original assignments ordered by Chinese-speaking students attending New Zealand universities, polytechnics and private institutions

and provides a link to an essay bought by the reporting team as part of their investigation.

Frankly, about the only thing that surprised me about the story was the fact that the organisation delivering this ‘service’, and thus helping those using it to cheat, is based in New Zealand. I mean, I’ve just had one of my regular clean-outs of the spam folder. Anything there just gets deleted; there’s so much coming in that I don’t have time to scan it just in case a genuine commenter has been dumped there. But occasionally something at the top of the queue for oblivion catches my eye, and I notice things like this:

Lately, graduates are overloaded to produce essay writing, they can find custom writing services where they are able to buy critical analysis essays.

If you are desperate, you always have a possibility to purchase high quality essay and all your problems will disappear.

Are willing to be a good student? Therefore, you should realise that good high school students buy paper and if it is fits you, you can do the same!

And the icing on the cake:

Some people have got a passion of composing academic papers, but, some of them do not know the correct way to complete research papers. Professional Custom UK Essay writing service is developed to help students who cannot write.

Frankly, the standard of English in that lot should put potential buyers off! At least some of the time they make an attempt at ‘buyer beware’ (but don’t you just know that the following would link to one of these ‘good’ sites?):

If you want to escape any troubles while ordering essays at the paper writing services, you ought to be really thorough. Buy essay services only if you have solid evidences that the people you’ll be dealing with are highly educated.

Lols aside, there’s obviously a market for this sort of stuff; it’s worth pondering why students would buy in work, and what options teaching staff have for avoiding/reducing the temptation.

One obvious motivation is the pressure to do well. Students (& often their families) do invest quite a bit of money into their education. This is particularly true for many international students whose families spend a lot to send them here & support them during their studies. (So do taxpayers, via the student loan system, so we – ie taxpayers – do need to know that we’re getting good value there, & that includes the quality of students’ work.) So fear of getting a poor mark, & perhaps having to repeat a paper, could drive the sort of behaviour that our spammers and the Auckland organisation are hoping to generate.

And unfortunately ‘custom essays’ are not going to be picked up by anti-plagiarism software (eg Turnitin) – unless the ghostwriters are stupid enough to just do a copy-&-paste! That’s not to say they can’t still be identified: an obvious clue would be a standard of English that differed significantly from that in other work submitted by a student; the relevance of the actual content would be another.

But there are ways of reducing incentives to be dishonest around assessment. For example, teachers can review their use of ‘high stakes’ assessment items: single essays or reports that are worth a large proportion of the final grade (& so can offer some incentive to cheat in order to gain a higher mark). ‘End-loading’ assessment, so that it’s all due at the end of semester, is not going to help here either.

Another tool would be to have students generate work in class. Now obviously that won’t work if you want a lengthy report, but what about: getting them to do the relevant research but asking for them to write an abstract, or a summary of their findings, in-class, & having it peer-marked (using your marking scheme) or doing that task yourself? The students still gain practice in useful skills & – hopefully – your workload is somewhat reduced. If students get more involved in the writing process from the start, & are supported in learning the various skills involved, they might be more confident in their own abilities & feel less need to cheat on the assignment.

Recommended reading**:

J.C.Bean (2001) Engaging Ideas: the professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. Jossey-Bass (Wiley). ISBN 978-0-787-90203-2

** actually, make that highly recommended!


  1. One other suggestion: make it prohibitively expensive or nearly impossible to buy a relevant paper by requiring students to incorporate comments from you (a selection you cull from your handouts or lecture notes), someone you choose, and/or classmates (via an online discussion group). Custom papers usually do this badly while cheaper papers do not do it at all. Make those additions a condition of a passing grade, and it won’t matter that you cannot prove the essay was purchased.

    I have a 30% grade penalty for not following all instructions. Any further points reduction beyond the 30% penalty sends the grade down too low to be a passing score. Because purchased papers often have fact or logic errors or they veer off the assigned topic, a cheating student fails.

    Comment by complynn — May 14, 2013 @ 12:19 am

    • Useful suggestions!

      I try to make it a bit harder by setting new topics each semester, which means there’s not a circulating pool of answers out there, and basing each one on a recent scientific paper that they HAVE to read & comment critically on.

      Comment by alison — May 14, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  2. I attended the 5th International Plagiarism Conference in Newcastle, U.K., last year. One of the suggestions that was made and I thought sound, involved designing a ‘tiered’ assessment task in which students handed in work on one part of a topic, got marked for it, and in the next assessment had to build on their first task to develop the ideas or concepts further (etc, etc,). This would tend to cut down on plagiarism and certainly the purchasing of essays or reports from a foreign site, because you needed to know what had happened in the first assessment in order to complete the next, and so forth. Just another idea! Cheers, Pip

    Comment by fergpip — May 14, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

    • And a good one – thanks, Pip :) I’m talk about this very issue on Radio NZ this afternoon; will have to try to keep all this in mind.

      Comment by alison — May 14, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

  3. Yep, my friend, I heard you!

    Comment by fergpip — May 14, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

    • I tried very hard not to put my foot in the wrong place!

      Comment by alison — May 14, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

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